Written by Vanessa Bennett
That post-yoga high might be one of the best, most positive feelings on the planet. Leaving class, you feel lighter and at peace. You notice the breeze on your skin, you see the world in more vivid color, and you have a slight turn up at the corners of your mouth.
And then, someone honks their horn as you’re crossing the street, someone cuts you off in traffic, the handles on your paper grocery bag rip, spilling everything on the sidewalk, or a political post comes across your feed that brings your stress level back up and gets your blood simmering and you find yourself struggling between the calm serenity you felt 10 minutes ago and the messy reality of life.
You already have a solid idea of what lights up your soul and grounds you in the present moment, and probably even a sturdy toolbox of go-to stress-relieving techniques you can reach for when things feel extra chaotic.
But, what about integration and equanimity? What about how to maintain that yoga high in the middle of a stressful day at work when you have a looming deadline, or when you find yourself feeling annoyed with your roommate about leaving that pile of dirty dishes in the sink…again?
In Buddhist psychology, we talk a lot about releasing unhealthy conditioning. About becoming an anthropologist and watching, without judgment, our habitual mental states. It’s pretty shocking when we realize how deeply ingrained and almost impersonal most of our reactions to things actually are.
We know it’s easy to feel calm and present after a great meditation session or when we are in the midst of an activity we love, like taking in an amazing sunset.
But, the first step in beginning to maintain equanimity and overall wellness in the face of chaos is to get extra familiar with our negative mental states as well as our positive ones.
As we become more mindful of our different states we can then choose more consciously to release the negative states and live in the peace of the positive ones.
Here is a practice for you to try over the next couple of weeks:
Pick a day where you know ahead of time it will be extra stressful, or choose the day when you feel yourself in the downward pull of the difficulties. At three points during the day, pause whatever you are doing and go inward. Notice the different emotional and mental states swirling around. You may notice worry, agitation, confusion, greed, or anger. Do not judge them or try to push them away, just observe them and name them.
Notice how strong they are, notice if they come and go, and notice the thoughts that are associated with the feelings. Take a few minutes and write down some notes about what you observed. Do this at least two more days over the week.
Next, do this same mindful practice but choose a day when you know you’ll be in engaged in something positive, peaceful, or exciting. Again, without judgment, observe and document the emotions, their intensity, and the thoughts that bubble around them. Maybe you recognize grace, confidence, kindness, or clarity. Do this for three days.
By building these mindful muscles around the different negative and positive mental and emotional states, you are giving yourself a deeper understanding of your habitual reactions to life and its inevitable ups and downs.
With continued practice and strengthening, you will be able to release some of the habits formed around the negative and instead choose in those moments to access presence, tranquility, serenity, and even joy.
So, even in the midst of picking up the dozens of blueberries that are currently rolling across the sidewalk out of your ripped grocery bag, you’ll be able to tap into that yoga high.
Vanessa Bennett is an Associate Psychotherapist, Mindfulness Coach, Writer, Yogi, and seeker who lives in Los Angeles. Her 10 years working the frantic NYC corporate life caused her own burnout which inspired her to slow down, reconnect to her soul, and change her path to one of helping others find the same reconnection to self. You can find her on her Instagram or her website.